One of the most harmful sessions of the Texas legislature is coming to a close (barring a special session), leaving the most marginalized Texans reeling.
From anti-trans bills SB 14 & 15, to anti-drag bill SB 12, this legislative session has been steeped in hatred, all while failing to protect Texans from *actual* threats to their safety, like a vulnerable power grid and rampant gun violence.
Sowing Hysteria and Attacking Drag
Gunmen are mowing us down in our schools and shopping malls, yet legislators apparently want us to fear drag queens. Drag is an ancient art form dating back hundreds of years, but it’s suddenly a crisis according to the author of SB 12, Mineola Republican Bryan Hughes. What started as a bill explicitly criminalizing drag is now designed to target any live performance the bill defines as “sexual”—a definition so broad and murky that even Republicans aren’t sure how it will play out or who it will affect.
As many critics of the bill have pointed out, there is a distinct difference between gender impersonation and sexuality. A queen reading a storybook to children at the library or lip synching to an Aretha Franklin song in a sequined gown doesn’t exactly fit the definition of a sexually explicit performance. In its definition, the bill cites the Supreme Court term “prurient interests,” meaning “erotic, lascivious, abnormal, unhealthy, degrading, shameful, or morbid interest in nudity, sex, or excretion.”
Rather than clarifying, this only seems to broaden the net. Now that this bill doesn’t specifically mention drag queens, who could it actually affect? Thespians in Shakespearean plays? Hooters waitresses? Cheerleaders? Democratic Rep. Richard Raymond of Laredo expressed concern that it could soon be illegal to take your kids to a Dallas Cowboys game. But his concern for the cheerleaders wasn’t enough—Raymond ended up voting for the bill, along with six other Democrats. All 12 votes against the bill were Democrats, but most of the party opted to vote “present not voting.”
SB 12 has been sent to Governor Abbott to be signed into law. A bill borne out of hate is now a vague vehicle of moral panic—a sloppy piece of legislation peddled by politicians who seem to have lost the plot.
Leaving Texas in the Dark
The Texas Legislature seems to think it’s more urgent to regulate the performing arts than it is to ensure that Texas doesn’t lose power the next time we experience extreme weather.
Hundreds of Texans died during the blackout caused by the winter storm of 2021. Statistically, it wasn’t just the storm that killed them, according to World Health Organization researcher Ariel Karlinsky. The same “excess mortality” didn’t occur in neighboring states “where the weather was bad but the power stayed on.”
Over the course of a horrible few days, stories flooded our feeds of people freezing to death in assisted living facilities and homes without power. Most Texans were without power for at least 48 hours.
The Texas grid continues to be vulnerable two years later. So what did the lege actually do about it this session? So far, it looks like they’re further subsidizing natural gas by doling out handouts to energy lobbyists so they can pass the costs on to customers.
SB 7 offers incentives for natural gas production. It also further demonizes renewable energy, though Texas has surpassed California in our solar capacity. The argument by Republicans is that gas-powered plants are at the ready for rapid-response in a blackout—what lawmakers often refer to euphemistically as “dispatchable generation.” However, solar power, if properly invested in, can be stored in batteries and similarly used in a crisis. Natural gas failed us during the winter storm of 2021 due to a supply chain that isn’t sufficiently weatherized—something these lawmakers conveniently leave out of their narrative on the reliability of natural gas and the unreliability of renewables.
By investing more in natural gas, SB 7 is robbing from our future to address climate anomalies of today that are increasing in frequency and severity. And thanks to its companion bill SB 6, your electric bill could increase by as much as 2%, because it passes the costs of natural gas production incentives on to the consumer.
Meanwhile, lobbyists from energy giants Oncor and CenterPoint successfully defeated Dem. Sarah Eckhardt’s SB 258, which would have established an energy saving goal of 1% annually for every electric utility company by 2030—a very modest goal designed to increase energy efficiency and save consumers money.
Endangering Kids by Protecting Guns
Gun control legislation predictably failed in the Texas lege this session. These included SB 23, which would have raised the minimum sentence for gun crimes, and HB 2744, a bill passionately promoted by the families of Uvalde victims, which would have raised the age to purchase a semi-automatic rifle from 18 to 21. These incremental gun sense reforms would have saved lives but instead, legislators actively worked to deny both bills from becoming laws.
Bullying Trans Youth
Students are undergoing active shooter training in our schools but according to Republican lawmakers like New Braunfels Senator Donna Campbell, the author of SB 14, we should be most concerned about their gender expression.
This bill would include barring people under 18 from taking hormone-blocking pills. A common argument by Republicans is that youth are not able to make such a life changing decision at such a young age. But, apparently, Republicans think these minors are old enough to get married or become parents. Texas has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country and at age 16, you can also marry in Texas with parental permission.
Child marriage and pregnancy are apparently fine with Republicans, yet not what studies show is often life-saving gender affirming care. Republican lawmakers assert that they are protecting minors with this bill, but they are actually putting them in harm’s way by increasing their chances of depression, anxiety, and suicide.
Nevertheless, SB 14 was sent to Abbott’s desk to be signed into law. Once signed, it should go into effect in September.
Denying Voting Rights
Astoundingly, hundreds of bills have been proposed this session to impact the way Texans vote. None of these are scarier than SB 990, which would eliminate county-wide voting. Like most election “reforms” proposed by Texas Republicans, SB 990 endeavors to make it harder for Texans to vote.
Rather than being able to vote at any location in the county, voters would have to vote in their specific voting precinct. This will reverse a reform that streamlined voting almost two decades ago, and will cause mass confusion at polling places, creating longer lines and dissuading voters.
It remains to be seen whether SB 990 will die in committee, but the traction it has gotten is already disturbing to voting rights advocates and election officials alike.
Other bills that could potentially have a negative impact on Texas voting include SB 2, which raises the penalty of illegal voting to a felony. This is likely aimed at scaring voters from voting rather than solving a rampant problem that actually needs to be solved. It also reinforces a Republican narrative that scores of people are voting illegally in a grand conspiracy to “steal elections.”
SB 1070 is another potentially harmful bill, as it allows Texas to withdraw from the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), a nonpartisan, multi-state program for checking and cleaning voter rolls. This is in response to a flurry of conservative conspiracy theories that ERIC is somehow tampering with our voter rolls simply because it’s not run by Republicans. On one hand, conservatives are paranoid about illegal voting; on the other, they are working to eliminate our best tool to prevent it.
Dealing with the Fallout
What makes these harmful bills even worse is that the lege only meets every two years, so this session is the legislative equivalent of tossing a Molotov cocktail behind them as they walk away from us. Due to the chronic absenteeism built into the legislature’s biennial schedule, Texans are left to grapple with the harmful fallout of these bills over the next two years—bills that even the legislators don’t fully understand. And thanks to Lege attacks on local control, even cities might be hampered in providing stop-gap solutions aimed at harm reduction.
CALL TO ACTION
Elections for the Texas House of Representatives will take place in 2024. Find out who represents you and how they voted on these issues. If they aren’t representing your best interests, work to replace them. This might include canvassing and phone banking for their opponent or even running for office yourself.